Seeing objects in motion

D. C. Burr, J. Ross, M. C. Morrone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper reports estimates of the conjoint spatiotemporal tuning functions of the neural mechanisms of the human vision system which detect image motion. The functions were derived from measurements of the minimum contrast necessary to detect the direction of drift of a sinusoidal grating, in the presence of phase-reversed masking gratings of various spatial and temporal frequencies. A mask of similar spatial and temporal frequencies to the test grating reduces sensitivity considerably, whereas one differing greatly in spatial or temporal frequency has little or no effect. The results show that for test gratings drifiting at 8 Hz, the tuning function is bandpass in both space and time, peaked at the temporal and spatial frequency (SF) of the test (SFS were 0.1, 1 or 5 c deg-1; c represents cycles throughout). For a grating of 5 c deg-1 drifiting at 0.3 Hz, the function is bandpass in space but lowpass in time. Fourier transform of the frequency results yields a function in space-time which we term the 'spatiotemporal receptive field'. For movement detectors (bandpass in space and time) the fields comprise alternating ridges of opposing polarity, elongated in space-time along the preferred velocity axis of the detector. We suggest that this organization explains how detectors analyse form and motion concurrently and accounts, at least in part, for a variety of perceptual phenomena, including summation, reduction of motion smear, metacontrast, stroboscopic motion and spatiotemporal interpolartion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-265
Number of pages17
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1247
Publication statusPublished - 1986

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)


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